Since I’ve got home from a year and a half of travelling, the general consensus from people I meet is that I must of had an amazing time. They ask me what my favourite country was, what it’s like to be home, etc. However, I’ve also had a few people basically imply that the last year and a half has effectively been one long holiday.
It’s easy to see why people would think that. I mean, like most people, I mainly put the good bits on Instagram. A photo of me snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef is a lot nicer and more interesting than a photo of me ill in bed, or doing the grocery shopping. Because despite the fact I was away, ‘normal life’ still went on for me. My normal just changed a little bit. My normal was in Australia instead of in the UK. My normal was living a less cluttered life where all my possessions had to fit in a backpack, rather than owning so much and attaching my identity to the stuff I owned. I don’t think this is a bad thing.
I think a lot of people do not realise that when backpackers travel for long periods of time, we often work whilst away. I actually worked a lot more than I had done probably ever in my life. I worked as a charity fundraiser and I worked in a call centre. I worked picking berries and I worked in a restaurant. These roles were not always easy. As a fundraiser, I often got told to fuck off by people in the street. I knew other fundraisers who had been spat on, or even groped. When fruit picking, we had to wake up at 5am and we earn’t next to no money. When I worked in a Vietnamese restaurant, one of my duties was to rip the heads off of the prawns. And I’m a vegetarian. I mean, eww. I did it. I rolled my sleeves up and I got on with it, but no one can say that that is an enjoyable task!
Even if backpackers aren’t on a working holiday, they may still be working. In bars, as promoters, in hostels, or on a freelance, contractual basis. And often we work long and hard, because our money is valued. Our money is set towards a travel orientated goal.
And so what if we don’t work? So what if we genuinely do take a year or longer out and literally just bum around the world? Many people who do that will have worked incredibly hard to get themselves in a financial situation where they can do that. They may have saved and made sacrifices for years just so they could travel around the world, on a shoestring, living frugally but happily for a little bit.
People often make out that travel and being away from home is not reality. They have a perceived notion that reality is living at home, working long hours in a job you don’t really like, coming home in the dark, taking two weeks off to lie on a deck chair in a resort that could literally be anywhere. I acknowledge that sometimes life can’t always be exactly what we want, and that things can happen that make life really, really hard at times. But that does not mean that travel is not a valid reality. In fact, I would argue travelling and experiencing the world is more aligned with ‘living in the real world’ than people seem to think. When you travel you experience the world in technicolour. You see reality and life in many forms, rather than just the one, singular life you’ve been used to. Is the only way to experience this backpacking around the world? No. But travel in any form definitely opens you up to more definitions of the word ‘reality’.
Now that i’ve travelled, I’ve seen that life and reality does not have to be boring or miserable or hard. It can be magical, exciting, whatever we make of it. Of course I still recognise life can’t always be perfect, but we can still live a life that we really want to live.
Having said that, like I mentioned earlier, the past year hasn’t just been filled with joy, beaches, swimming in oceans. It’s not always easy or interesting or a ‘holiday’. I still had to work, clean and cook. I still got ill. I still went through hard times. I still got angry and cried. There were even times where I questioned everything and wanted to book flights home. I had times that were really mundane, where I spent Friday nights on the sofa watching Netflix instead of going out partying, or where I went to the gym. Just instead of being mundane in Britain I was being mundane in Australia. When you’re away for a year and a half, constant travel and good times is basically impossible. Even if you could financially sustain that, you would pretty quickly hit burnout. In honesty I don’t really see myself as travelling for all that time, as I spent much of my time living in Melbourne. That was my favourite time, but it was also a time where I lived a life of relative routine and normality.
So in short, the idea that us travellers live a life in a constant vacation is a massive myth! But I would still rather travel long term and face any obstacles that may bring, than only have a weeks holiday on a sun lounger any day.